Goodness knows why we need a reason to celebrate the genius of Cole Porter, but the official excuse for these two beautiful hours of unadulterated joy is that 50 years ago in October the great man left us with more than 800 songs and some of the most-loved musicals of all time as his indelible legacy.
Actually, there is a reason: on the train up to London I told an apparently well-rounded 20-year-old university student where I was going and she replied: “Porter? No, don’t know him but I’ll look him up on Google. Was it Carl or Cole?”
And looking round the almost-full Cadogan Hall, where 90 per cent of the audience would never see 60 again, I realised that we ancient luvvies have an absolute duty to ensure that the modern generation aren’t going to tell their children and grandchildren that great songwriting began with Lennon and McCartney.
Getting them to listen to the great Maria Friedman wrench your heart with ‘Love For Sale’, the poignant streetwalker’s song from The New Yorkers, Jenna Russell getting close to the blues with ‘Miss Otis Regrets’ from Hi Diddle Diddle, or the ebullient Clive Rowe perspiring nicely to ‘Too Darn Hot’ from Kiss Me, Kate would be the perfect introduction.
Maybe they would have known far more of the songs than they thought: after all, the mushy ‘True Love’ was a pop-chart hit for Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly from the movie High Society and everybody, whatever their age, knows ‘Night and Day’, ‘Anything Goes’, ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?’ and ‘I Love Paris in the Springtime’, don’t they? Maybe it’s just the man who wrote them the youngsters aren’t familiar with.
This parade of Porter favourites, sung lovingly and with great polish by Friedman, Russell, Rowe and Graham Bickley, and played with relish by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra under the warm baton of Richard Balcombe, backed by a 17-strong chorus from the Royal Academy of Music, is exactly what it says on the tin.
Nothing complex here, the song’s the thing and very little patter or explanation of the songs beyond Balcombe saying what a shame it is that only Anything Goes, Kiss Me, Kate and High Society get an airing these days because some of Porter’s best material is contained in other, often earlier shows.
The risque ‘Let’s Do It’, for example, hails from his first Broadway success, Paris, in 1928 – and how many know that the classic ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye’ began in 1944 in a show called Seven Lively Arts, using ballet music by Stravinsky?
The only song the audience is perhaps less familiar with – and Friedman made us laugh by saying that the matinee crowd seemed to know the words of everything and had wanted to join in all the time but would we please refrain from doing so! – was ‘Down in the Depths’, a beautiful treatment by Russell from Red, Hot and Blue, the 1936 Porter more famous for ‘It’s De-Lovely’, later the title of the 2004 biopic starring Kevin Kline.
An evening of immortal songs by a man who could do funny, sad, slow and fast, but, above all, wickedly clever and wonderfully melodic, a true master as prolific as he was exceptional. De-Lovely!